What's going on in Bush's mind here?

This long NYT retrospective on the seminal news-photos of some guy named George Bush during his presidency ends with photos of the man on his way to his farewell address, during which it appears that he's been crying in the bathroom. I've looked at it several times now and I'm not sure I agree that's what's going on -- this facial expression seems to contain a lot more than mere sorrow.

And I turned to one of my editors – First I said, “Oh, my God.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “You’ve got to see this picture of Bush. This is really stunning.” And I flipped it over to him to process and his first reaction was, “Wow.” And I said, “If he wasn’t just back there behind that door crying, I don’t know what that look on his face is.” Because he just looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially ending his eight year presidency. And it’s just really striking. He just looks absolutely devastated.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (Thanks, Teresa!)

(Image: REUTERS/Jason Reed)


  1. he just looks like that because he just exhaled heavily (see pic taken previous to it) and so the cameraman just happened to have caught W in the moment when his mouth sagged a bit, exaggerating that facial expression.

  2. Maybe it’s just me. I instantly thought “befuddled and slightly mad about it: check. Like someone took away his candy: check. Petulant: check.”

    I didn’t (and still don’t) get devastated out of it, but I suppose that’s half the fun of the picture. It’s a fantastic captioning opportunity.

  3. He looks kinda like the kid who got sent to the principal and is real scared of what’s going to happen next.

  4. “If he wasn’t just back there behind that door crying, I don’t know what that look on his face is.”

    Or, you know, the camera could have just caught an unflattering but otherwise meaningless moment that most people could read too much into.

  5. I’m with Lucifer on this one. (How often do you get the chance to say that?) It’s an unfortunate instant to have a photo taken, nothing more.

    I’ve not been a fan of Bush Jr for many years, but from what I’ve heard he’s been handling the whole transition gracefully and with class.

  6. Well yeah, it’s gotta to suck to fail so miserably at everything you do. i would have that face on too if i had completely sunk the most powerful nation in the world in only 8 years. obama now has to effectively raise the titanic. i for one am behind him all the way.

  7. He looks about the way the rest of the world looked like when he took office and when he was reelected.

  8. Can’t we just let this Bush thing go? I don’t like the man any more than anyone else, but his time is over, and it’s best just to remember the mistakes that were made so that we don’t repeat them, and let the guy fade into obscurity.

    It’s one thing to win an election and try and effect change in the system, it’s another to gloat over it.

  9. Isn’t natural for anybody to be sullen when leaving a job that has great perks?? Or maybe he was sullen for leaving his friends and staff. I would not read more into this than it looks, as tempting as it might be.

    That said, you have to wonder what Bush (and the Republicans at large) realize is just out of touch with the public that poll numbers suggest they are. I would also submit that this is not purely a Republican phenomena as well (look at the Democrats after the Carter years). Also, many members of congress have been there decades. Really, this to me seems a fault of our adversarial two-party system.

  10. apparently some of you are far more fortunate than I.

    I have burned countless photos (yeah, guess THAT makes me old) and deleted digital files of countless more that depict me as being high, completely drunk, ill, half-dead, asleep, and idiotic — when I was none of those things at the time the shutter was activated.

    Apparently those who think this has some magical hidden meaning are fortunate enough to have never had an unflattering photo taken.

  11. As a photographer, I’d like to point out that it is fantastically easy to make a person look sad, happy, angry, apathetic, or however I happen to wish to depict someone. All I need to do is set my camera to burst mode, and keep the lens trained on someone while they’re engaging in *anything*. 20-30 pictures later, I’m likely to have my pick of flattering and unflattering images to seize on and sensationalize. This is a typical tactic used by tabloid photographers, and knowing this makes me distrust comments that suggest a photo ever tells the truth about someone’s personality or accurately depicts their thoughts.

  12. Why don’t we let the Bush thing go? And just forget? Sweep it under the rug? Seriously?

    Because if we don’t remember nixon and make sure he get’s the punishment he deserves, someone will be under the impression that they can get away with the same thing in the future, and the public will be more willing to let them do it… Oh wait, I meant Bush.

  13. I was going to agree with the others that said it was an unfortunate instant, and nothing more. However, on the site there are three images, and this expression seems to be pretty consistent across all three. It’s certainly more than a momentary contortion of the features.

  14. I think he was crying knowing how he will be remembered…

    About him exhaling, yes, that is in fact what he did but it seems like it was the “I hate to do this” type of sigh

  15. This and a million other possibly stranger faces are quite common for any person, but we hardly ever notice them without the aid of a camera.

    This is why realistic animation of facial expression is so hard to achieve. Bob Clampett (Looney Tunes) was a master of this and can be seen clearly in his animation. Check out some of Daffy’s facial expressions frame by frame in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery:

    Any parallel this cartoon has to Bush is purely a coincidence.

  16. As much as I like a good Bush bash, that looks more like “Ugh, shouldn’t’a had Taco Bell for lunch” than anything else. (Particularly with the other photos in TFA.)

  17. its been covered but i’ll put in my two cents. spend a few hours slowing video down to frame by frame and you get get the most hilarious expressions of of actors in movies. if you want to read into something let it be 8 years of his performance and not a single instant where he pulled a daft face.

  18. To the killjoys,

    Lets go beyond the fact that this is a candid shot and just make up embarrassingly stupid shit for him to be thinking. It’ll never make up for the last 8 years, but we may as well enjoy him now that his toys have been taken away.

    Kick this man while he’s down, please. That’s what he’s for now. Just like he wanted (surely!?).

  19. Momentary expression it was not — there are three pictures in sequence, which with the speed of the shutter may be pretty quick, but it’s still an expression as opposed to a face contorting between emotional states or whatever.

  20. Does anyone really think these guys have deep regrets about their administration? Bush and Cheney are somberely reflecting on their actions over the last decade and wondering how it all led to this?

    They’re rolling around in a big pile of money, giggling like school girls. Whatever you feel for Bush, leave pity out of it.

  21. Y’all are succumbing to the anthropomorphic fallacy if you think this pic reflects shame, guilt, remorse, etc. My guess is gas.

  22. This wasn’t a one off. Check the other photos from this series of shots, that is a serious feeling you are seeing there.

  23. @#13
    Just because he is no longer president doens’t mean that we, and the rest of the world, are not still dealing with the results of his actions. His ACTIONS will never fade into obscurity, sadly.

  24. @#32
    I am certain that you believe that you are correct as well as a fairly intelligent person.

    hehe. That’s funny to me.

  25. I’d go with exhaling as well, but still… Knowing the little manchild, this shot could have been taken post-tantrum when he was told that he’s not going to get that promotion to “Dictator for Life” that he and Cheney had been working so hard to get.

  26. #47 thats a cheap tactic to take. give us some substance. otherwise i think that just qualifies as a flame.

  27. Why are some people reluctant to stop beating the Bush? Why don’t we just “let it go?”


    All Bread and No Circuses

    All my life I’ve heard Baby Boomers bitching about Nixon, even after he was dead. I used to wish they’d just GET OVER IT, but now I understand their bitterness. It wasn’t what Nixon did that infuriated them so much. It’s what he got away with. Nixon was nudged out of office by a momentary gust of public disfavor over a botched burglary attempt — not, say, a Congressional investigation into the bombing of Cambodia. There was never a thorough reckoning of the misdeeds of Nixon’s White House, just as there will probably never be a full accounting of the perversions and swindles of Bush’s presidency. To the majority of Americans, Bush will be that guy who invaded Iraq and wrecked the economy.

  28. If I was in a fight with Cheney I hope I’d come out looking that good.

    Obviously you know not the ways of the evil mastermind.

    At that point, Cheney was sitting in his wheelchair thinking “I could crush him like an ant. But no, revenge is a dish best served cold. I’ll bide my time…”

  29. #40: You might be on to something there. Bush being controlled by a Machiavellian neocon loafer would go a long way to explain the last eight years.

  30. @Resista

    You think you are the voice of the informed and the literati but really your just the voice of the kool-aid drinkers.

    That should be you’re just the voice of the kool-aid drinkers.

  31. Tim,

    It’s not your call. You also know that you can discuss moderation issues in the Mod thread. If a comment is disemvoweled and you re-emvowel it and repost it, you get unpublished. If you do it twice, you get suspended for a day.

  32. #9: god i hope he’s handling the transition well, seeing as someone else lives in that house and is running that country now. If they were having trouble getting him out of the bathroom or something, that would be irritating.

  33. @#55 Contrasoma: I’ve always thought Dick was more of a Machiavellian neoconservative wing-tip myself…

  34. I watched him as he wandered down the hall and out of the rotunda on Inauguration Day, and he looked just as stunned and baffled on live video as he does in this photo.

  35. Maybe he just had his mind control program terminated, woke up, and realised what he’s been doing for the last 8 years.

  36. Isn’t this the kind of thing tabloid rags do? Grab the most awkward photo they can and assign some kind of stupendous significance to it?

    Next we’ll be hearing he’s pregnant.

    It’s lowest common denominator, if admittedly amusing.

  37. This is such CRAP. Analyzing micro-second long facial expressions, then assigning importance to them, is worse than paslmistry or reading tea leaves. Will you people PLEASE grow up and realize that everyone can be caught with a strange expression on their face thousands of times a day? Has no one taken a photo of another person before? Yeesh.

    1. Analyzing micro-second long facial expressions, then assigning importance to them, is worse than palmistry

      Yes, but not clicking the link and seeing that there are multiple photos over a period of time with the same facial expression is worse than ornithomancy (divination by the flight of birds), astragyromancy (divination by lettered knucklebones) and skatharomancy (divination by beetle tracks on the grave of a murder victim) combined.

  38. Maybe he having trouble deciding, “Tomorrow, the mansion or the yacht,” then, just as the camera snaps, “Oh crap, the yacht’s being painted!”

  39. Resista has convinced me to stop reading bOING bOING, move into the mountains, and start training for The Revolution! How can I ever thank you, Resista, for finally bringing me to praxis? You will surely be long remembered in the annals of The Cause for the legions of ex-web-zombies recruited out of the Echo Chamber and into Meaningful Action by your refreshing, compelling, contemptuous online prose!

    Seriously, friend, you’re hurting more than you’re helping.

    As for the photo, maybe Bush had just read this amazing and horrifying list and was starting to understand the scale of his fuckupedness? I know my face looked a lot like that as I read through it.

  40. Hey, it probably isn’t so easy to keep it together if polls consistently show that the vast majority of humanity hate your guts.

    Imagine walking down the street and getting the stinkeye from three out of every four people you pass. I’d want to lock myself in the bathroom and cry my eyes out too.

  41. “Beat that Horse”, “Bad picture”, “who cares?”
    “He was releasing a deep breath”

    You know what, that bastard spent the last eight years causing people to/watching people die, go broke, and those are just the good times. You know what? Those years are now over, let those of us who would like to think he was crying/feeling shame etc for those horrible eight damn years think he was crying! Most likely we will not see him on trial paying for the hell he put us through, so give us this one moment please. It’s small, it’s petty but that is probably our only “moment of Zen”.

  42. bush action figures..with little courtrooms and prisoner docks….gallows, maybe a little plastic bag to tie over his head? Or a complete Dantean Hell with different levels to bury him in – he does qualify for all.

  43. “#3 posted by Lucifer , January 27, 2009 1:39 PM
    he just looks like that because he just exhaled heavily (see pic taken previous to it) and so the cameraman just happened to have caught W in the moment when his mouth sagged a bit, exaggerating that facial expression. ”

    Made me think about micro-expressions. Emotion revealed momentarily.

  44. Who is the evil one, Bush or Cheney? In many of your previous posts I’ve been lead to believe Cheney was the the man making the decisions. I’m just going to have to assume both were evil – will they be wallowing in the same pit in hell or will one be a few levels deeper?

  45. Tom

    No, they’ll both just be dead in the ground, rotting. Their hell will be what we make for them; in their lives and in our memory.

  46. My dad makes that look coming in from working in the yard. It during the transition from having forgotten everything but the task to remembering that people are around and he needs to start managing his social persona again. He usually smells like cut grass and gasoline right about then.

  47. Snax – the Clinton presidency was better known for “balling until eyes fall out”.

    I cringe when I think of anything Bush did in the Oval Office. I really cringe when those imagined things lack pants.

  48. You know, I almost felt bad for Bush… but then I thought about how it would be if the roles were reversed, how he’d feel if I was the one with the pained look on my face. At best, I’d get some cheap, frat-boy type comment, probably even get ridiculed. I can’t feel sympathy for him. If I wanted to be mean, I guess I could say, “Oh, I’m sure a keg and some coke will make everything better…”

  49. Everything about his presidency disgusts me, starting from the first post-9/11 press conference (where he blew off and talked over all the questions I would have liked to have heard answers to) but the sequence of photos on the site suggests to me a man puffing and shaking his face out, and getting ready to don his public persona. It’s something you see a lot of backstage in theater. Not a hint of remorse, regret, or dread; nothing to feed my schadenfreude, dammit.

  50. Wonderful link to a great collection of images and a very balanced and thoughtful article. I’m no fan of Bush, but you realize that he may just be a decent man who was too small for a job that was too big. Once in a while, it’s good to take a break from the partisan sniping to acknowledge that even the the man holding the highest office in the land should be given some forgiveness for possessing the same frailties and imperfections that all humans are subject to. I hope people continue to bear this in mind as Obama continues to work through these troubled times.

  51. No more significance than those photos of celerities with their eyes half closed used to “prove” how wasted they are at a given event.

    You try having 20+ people take photos of you when you aren’t posing and see how many look like this.

  52. I think he’s just realized that people are going to find out how badly he screwed things up.

    I think he did something (several somethings) really hideously bad, illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional, and just realized that somewhere there’s evidence he probably forgot to delete.

  53. I simply cannot — can not– feel sympathetic. Any bad feelings that former President Bush may feel, he deserves to feel. For many, many years. I am not heartened by it, but I do feel a certain balance has been restored. This is called karma. It happens to all. It finally nailed Bush to the ground — it makes me think that he suddenly saw all the dead bodies, all the tortured faces, all the drowned children floating into the Gulf of Mexico. And he knows that it was his fault. It is a horror. It was avoidable. He did nothing useful to avoid it. This is the result.
    I do not feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for all the rest who suffered.

  54. I don’t believe Mr Bush purposely did anything wrong. But I’m really glad his term is over and am looking forward to seeing how President Obama deals with what the world throws at him. I just hope the world treats him a little more kindly than it did Mr Bush.

  55. The sequence of three photos and the context discussed by the photographer strongly suggests that what is seen is a legitimate expression of emotion.
    However Bush, like all public figures, has learned to reflexively control his expression in public. Bush is particularly good at mugging his way out of an embarrassing moment (crying baby, locked door, turkey head in pants, etc.) It’s hard to believe that he would let it all hang out like that in front of people.

  56. I think the context is suggested by the photographer, but I could be wrong. About the only emotion I can detect is a bit of worry; ironically, he may have been worried over the possibility that in his last few hours he would manage to stumble again somehow…

  57. Looks like an impending sneeze to me. I look like that when I’m about to explode nasally.
    I do not believe that Bush does or ever will appreciate his actions that others consider wrong. The man will go to his grave believing that the next generation of historians will be lobbying for him to be the last face added to Mount Rushmore. It’s not that he can’t know wrong from right, he just has a fixed idea that everything he did was OK and he has no reason to evaluate that belief or consider the opinions of others.
    That may be the definition of the perfect party politician or political figurehead.

  58. I feel sorry for all you people who’re saying he was just sneezing, or preparing for a speech; or that assigning meaning to a few snapshots is pointless. You are missing a wonderful opportunity.

    Clearly the reason for these facial expressions is that Evil Bob had just departed his body for the Black Lodge, leaving behind the shredded swiss-cheese remnants of W’s soul, along with a dawning realization that no supernatural protection now stood between him and the psychic wrath of bOING bOING commenters — IT’S OBVIOUS, SHEEPLE

    Your turn.

  59. It is appropriate, now that he has relinquished power, to show him mercy and extend the compassion granted us when the Slack of Bob is ours, so long as the True Pipe burns!

  60. … Bush finished his address to the nation, went back out through the doors, and the doors closed behind him and the national TV broadcast went off the air. And then after the live TV was off, the doors suddenly reopened, and he came back in to say goodbye to all the guests – his former cabinet members, his current cabinet members, Dick Cheney, his daughters, Laura and lots of other friends and supporters. …

    After the speech, not before. Cory, I’d thought better of you.

  61. I’d love to come up with a sharp, witty explanation for his facial expression but I can’t. Bcs knw h’d jst bn rpd by bm fr sx hrs strght.


  62. He was prob saying good bye to the white house staff. He’s really going to miss the white house cook.

    ONly other option I see is that he choked on a pretzel again just seconds before.

  63. I can’t imagine taking the kind of unfriendly fire he has for eight years and NOT occasionally letting the public mask slip. Being President has got to be insanely stressful. Being an unpopular President has got to be exponentially more so. If I were he, I would want to live out my days in as much obscurity as possible.

    He’s bought a house in an exclusive Dallas neighborhood (I had the occasion to be on that side of town recently, and it’s very pretty over there). I don’t know why he doesn’t go back to his Crawford ranch and let the world pass him by.

  64. Probably not crying, but I can see how it looks that way.

    There was a time when I would have enjoyed a good bit of schadenfreude over his (apparent) misery, but not anymore. I don’t want to hate anyone.

  65. It’s a split second candid facial expression. Don’t tell me you’ve never had a photo taken of you where you looked as if you were drunk, sleepy or befuddled. It seems really strange to come up with theories based on a candid photo.

  66. Mod note:

    I’ve taken the liberty of emboldificating jimh’s comment at #25 since some commenters seem to be having a hard time clicking the link to the series of photos with the exact same facial expression.

Comments are closed.